Stephen Earl King’s civil suit filed Nov. 2 in Virginia Eastern District Court claiming malicious prosecution against Commonwealth Attorney Patricia Watson and Virginia State Police Special Agent Kimberly Darden was dismissed.
King, a 2015 candidate for sheriff of Greensville County, was charged with election fraud for allegedly falsifying the certificate of candidacy when filing as a candidate for sheriff. The court document supported the claim King had a North Carolina address and voted in person in the North Carolina general election in Gaston, N.C. on Nov. 4, 2014.
According to the court document King moved to his father’s Emporia home in October, before the North Carolina general election. To legally cast a ballot in North Carolina King would have had to complete an Authorization to Vote Form listing his current address. King signed the document without listing his new address, thereby certifying the North Carolina address was his current address.
In a Feb. 27, 2015 preliminary hearing concerning a robbery of King’s grocery store in the southeastern part Greensville County, King testified in Greensville County General District Court that he lived across the road from one of the defendants. According to the court document both parties agreed his testimony refers to his residence in North Carolina.
Had King been a resident of North Carolina on that date he would have not been eligible to run for sheriff Greensville County. Under Virginia law candidates for public office must be able to voter that office and have been a resident of the Commonwealth for at least one year immediately preceding the election.
Watson received a complaint claiming King was not eligible to run for sheriff due to the residency issues shortly after King filed as a candidate for sheriff. Watson contacted the Virginia State Police requesting it investigate the allegations against King. Watson then emailed Lynchburg Commonwealth Attorney Michael Doucette asking him to handle the investigation. He was appointed special prosecutor on July 10. Watson explained King was a victim kin a robbery case handled by her office and wanted someone outside of the area to handle the case.
On July 24, 2015, Darden appeared before a magistrate to apply for an arrest warrant. She told the magistrate King voted in the 2014 North Carolina election and submitted a criminal complaint stating the investigation revealed King has not been a resident of Virginia since Nov. 3, 2014, therefore No. 3 on the Certificate of Candidate Qualification Local Offices for Greensville is a false yes statement.
Darden interviewed Greensville County Registrar Dorothy Kea and was provided copies of King’s signed Certificate of Candidate Qualification and Declaration of Candidacy forms. Kea also provided proof that King registered his vehicle with the Virginia DMV and registered to vote May of 2015. Special Agent Garrett Giusto arrested King on July 28, 2015.
Though King was eventually found not guilty of election fraud by a jury of eight women and four men, the U.S. District Court document opinion exonerating Watson and Darden determined there was sufficient probable cause to prosecute King. It read King did not identify anything improper about the warrant process and his claims for false arrest and false imprisonment must fail.